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Pet Sins January 2000

Showdown in Little Tokyo

In this 1991 movie from Paramount Pictures, 2 LA cops battle the Japanese American underworld of drug lords and sexploitation. Dolph Lundgren plays the main character, an European American raised in Japan. Brandon Lee plays the sidekick, an all-American boy born of a white father and Japanese mother. Lundgren asks him, "...how come you don't know a lot about *your* culture?" (refering to Japanese culture) From the beginning of this film, the Eurasian, even one with a European father, is already explicitly tagged as Asian.

Of course Lundgren's character practises the Asian martial arts and is supposedly deeply imbued with Eastern values. The audience gets bashed over the head with scenes of Lundgren in Japanese martial arts uniform kicking a punching bag in slow motion. Lundgren's house is a "Japanese-style" building complete with a wooden bath tub outside the house. The movie repeatedly makes the point of Lundgren's superior grasp of Japanese culture over Lee's. This alone does not necessarily qualify Showdown in Little Tokyo as a racist movie.

But wait, there's more. Lee becomes interested in a Japanese night club singer played by Tia Carrere. Carrere's character chooses to sleep with Lundgren instead. When Lee finds out, he is disappointed, but in the same scene, he acknowledges Lundgren's sexual superiority by exclaiming, "Wow, you have the biggest dick I've ever seen on a guy!"

Here is the old stereotype of the white male being more virile than the Asian male. The white man is presented as more desirable to women than the Asian man, even (or should we say especially) to Asian women.

Virtually all the other Asian men in the movie are evil yakuza. Lundgren rescues a female Japanese shopowner from a bunch of extortionists by beating them up. The camera lingers on the Asian woman happily cheering on the white man who is thrashing a group of Asian men. Of course the audience later gets to see Tia Carrere stand around doing nothing except cheer on Lundgren as he beats up more Asian men. The viewer is basically being beaten over the head once every few minutes with the trite message of white men being the saviors of Asian women and Asian men being the villains.

Incidently, most of the Japanese characters in the movie are played by non-Japanese who don't even look Japanese. The exception is the main bad guy played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. This is your stereotypical oriental bad guy -- an evil crime boss who happens to know martial arts. He is also a sexual pervert -- a danger to white society. He forces a white woman to take illegal drugs, then mounts her from the back while using a sword to slice off her head. He films this for his own pleasure.

The movie is a showcase for stereotypical Orientalist scenes. In one scene, Tia Carrere tries to kill herself while being held captive by Tagawa. Tia, wearing a kimono, walks into the room carrying a delicate box. The room has paper screens like a "typical" Japanese room. She kneels down, places the box on the mat and carefully opens it. She then takes the dagger out to commit harikiri. So typical of the honorable Japanese woman! One can easily believe the captive of a sexual pervert would have such easy access to ritual weapons and be given the time and space to plan and perform an elaborate ritual suicide!

The movie ends with the residents of Little Tokyo bowing low to the white guy for killing off the Japanese bad guy. Hail the great white savior!

I was gagging throughout the movie. If you can't see how racist the whole movie is, please try thinking a little bit more.

martial arts movie fan
1999